The Taste of Chocolate

An Investigation of the Nature of Taste


Professors Joseph D. Sloan
and David M. Whisnant



Project Web Pages



After eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream, a writer'sCalvin Trillin’s 4-year old daughter once said "My tongue is smiling." 1 Our project will focus on why some foods, and chocolate in particular, make our tongues smile. What does science have to say about tastes and smells? How do our tastes depend on our culture and upbringing? How does the the food industry evaluate tastes? How can we sharpen our palettes so that we improve our ability to discriminate among tastes and discuss them more effectively?

Along with our investigation of taste, we also will look at several other topics involving chocolate:

·       The history of chocolate first as food and beverage for the elite — --  drink and coinage in the Mayan and Aztec empires and an ingredient in culinary masterpieces in aristocratic Europe —  -- and then as a snack for the masses.

·       The complex process by which chocolate is produced from beans found in the pods of cacao trees and transformed into candy bars by industrial candy-makers and fine truffles by chocolatiers, the high artists of the chocolate world.

·        The ways chocolate can be used as an intrinsic food and as a component in other foods.


Students in the "Taste of Chocolate" project will participate in several activities:

·       Taste testing: Every day, we will do several "mouths-on" taste tests designed to educate students' palettes and hone their ability to discuss tastes and smells. We will have a chance to taste a lot of chocolate (see picture at right)!

·       Demonstrations: Once a week, we will meet in the kitchen for culinary demonstrations and preparations for tomorrow's cooking session

·       Cooking: On each Tuesday we will hold hands-on cooking sessions in which small teams of students prepare several dishes made from chocolate. Cooking sessions will be scheduled throughout the day, aEach cooking session will last a full day, at the end of which we all will sample the results.

·       Lecture/Discussions: On days in which we are not cooking, we will meet for more traditional in-class sessions covering the history, economics, sociology, and science of chocolate.

·       Films: Once a week, we will view a film involving chocolatefocusing on food— -- Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, for example.

·       Outside Reading and Assignments: Generally, students will have assigned reading that must be completed before the next day's class.

·       No Friday afternoon, evening, or weekend activities are anticipated.

Some of the chocolate arrives 



·       Begin the lifelong process of developing an educated palette, including the ability to distinguish and/or identify various tastes and odors.

·      Learn how to intelligently describe and discuss flavors.

·      Begin learning about the science of taste and cooking, while learning or refining some basic cooking skills.

·      See how cultural influences affect our sense of taste and appreciation of food.

·      Learn how chocolate, as both a beverage and a food, has played a role in several different cultures for more than three millennia.

·      Develop an appreciation of fine chocolates including varietals, regional or estate chocolates, and (subject to availability) vintage chocolates



Requirements and Grading

Grades in this project are Honors, Pass, and Fail

The primary criterion for passing is class attendance, active participation in the course, and completion of projects. The projects will include taste testing, during which a detailed tasting journal must be kept, and cooking. Students also will be responsible for purchasing some of the food for the cooking exercises. Students with excused absences will be required to do outside projects to make up for missed classes. Unexcused absences will not be allowed.

Any student desiring a grade of honors will be given extra assignments and projects to complete.



All students are required to purchase the following three books, portions of which we will read during the project:

1.     Coe, S. D.; Coe, M. D; The True History of Chocolate. 2nd. Ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007.

2.    Doutre-Roussel, C. The Chocolate Connoisseur. Piatkus Books, 2007.

3.    McGee, H. On Food and Cooking. New Yorkur: Scribner, 2004.

We also will distribute several photocopied handouts for students to read.



The cost of the project, beyond the required books, will be $300. Students will be required to bring a $200 deposit (in the form of a check made out to Wofford College) to the first class on November 27. (Students failing to make arrangements to pay the deposit by the end of class on November 27 will be administratively dropped from the course.  For students dropping the interim, the deposit is refundable only if another student takes the student’s place in the interim.)  The remaining $100 of the deposit may be paid on January 3. Deposits will be used to purchase items such as ingredients for cooking sessions, food for taste tests, chocolate, nose kits, and photocopying. Any part of the deposit not used at the end of the Interim will be returned to the students.

The estimated cost of the books is around $80 for new copies of the book.  On-line discounts and used books may be available..

1. Calvin Trillin. Quoted in Wolfe, J. M., et al. Sensation & Perception. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2005. p 341Tummy Trilogy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994, p120.


Last updated on: 4-Jan-2007